Singapore’s biomedical strategy (transcript)

Kevin Tan, Assistant Head of the Pharmaceuticals & Biotechnology Sciences group with Singapore’s Economic Development Board spoke July 23, 2007 about Singapore’s biomedical strategy and the interrelationship between health care delivery and research. The country’s overall strategy to be a biomedical hub strengthens its position as a medical travel destination, especially for complex procedures and treatments.

Singapore is pursuing a holistic strategy comprising small molecule pharmaceuticals, biotech drugs and biotechnology, medical devices, and services, and spanning the value chain from discovery through manufacturing. The country has attracted scores of well-known international companies in each of the sectors. Large pharma companies including GSK, Lilly and Novartis have continued to expand their operations within Singapore after their initial investments paid off.

The following is a transcript of the audio recording.

Hi, good morning. I’m from the Singapore Economic Development Board, here to present to you some of the initiatives that we have put in place to build up the biomedical sciences industry in Singapore and also some of the companies that have been in Singapore, how they have invested here. Feel free to ask your questions at the end of this presentation.

The vision that we have, really, is to create in Singapore the bio hub of Asia. This is an international biomedical sciences cluster advancing human health through the pursuit of excellence in research and development, manufacturing, and healthcare delivery.

Our focus is very clear in terms of pursuing human health. If you look at biotech today, there are many applications (industrial biotechnology and other areas), but the focus that we have, at least within the group that we have at EDB, is on human healthcare.

I think the second thing to point out here is that we are very interested in the entire value chain of activities, not just in production and manufacturing. Singapore has been quite strong in that area since the late 90’s.

I think the push that we have is really to build upon that base, but also to look at activities that span the entire value chain. These could be clinical trials, could be research and development, could be marketing, could be coordination of trials in Singapore, and also then to leverage on the capabilities that have been built up in the hospitals and also in terms of feeding this into also promotion of healthcare services to foreign patients. Dr. Jason Yap had mentioned about that earlier.

We have today defined the space that I have mentioned earlier into four key categories. Here we have companies that are in the pharmaceutical space for, basically, production of drugs (small molecules). Very closely linked to that would be the biotechnology space where you are looking at protein therapeutics that actually treat diseases, beyond just small molecules.

The third area that we are looking at is not just drugs, but also devices, and that is the yellow bubble on the top where you see medical engineering and technology. Here we are looking at devices relating to stents, implants, those sort of devices.

And the fourth area is in healthcare services and delivery. Here our interest is really to promote foreign hospitals to set up in Singapore. So, we are taking a very holistic perspective when we define human health and really look at breaking down this area. So the key take away is really a focus on drugs, devices, and then on services.

Now underpinning the biomedical sciences initiative is a very strong push in terms of R&D development, and that’s what we see in the center diamond, in terms of building our capabilities in basic research, this is where you have chemical synthesis, genomics, proteomics already form the building blocks of really advancing research and development in this space.

We have not only built up capabilities in the basic sciences, but we are also looking to translate these capabilities to the clinic. And that is true, what you see in the orange color outlined there in terms of drug discovery, bioimaging capabilities, stem cell therapeutics, and biomarker research. I’ll elaborate a little bit more on this as we go along.

To advise our government on the development of the biomedical sciences industry, we have our own Biomedical Sciences International Advisory Council. These are made up of luminary scientists from around the world, who basically advise our government on strategies. I think you will look at them as the people that will look into the future and tell us what are some of the key priorities that we need to devote our resources to.

Translational research and clinical research was one of the key things that they have been always actively telling us over the past few years and this is what we will be focusing on from this year onwards through the end of 2010.

They basically meet with our government about once a year to provide feedback on what we have accomplished so far and also then to provide comments on initiatives going forward.

Meeting at the top level, I just want to also elaborate how that advice then translates down into a coordinated push in terms of building up the biomedical sciences industry in Singapore.

We look at this in three different aspects. You can sum it up as the three C’s, that being human capital development, intellectual capital development and industrial capital development.

Now, to drill down on what this means, on the first one, human capital development, the aim here is to build up both an international pool of scientists and clinicians that can drive research and development in the public research institutes and also to support industry when they set up their research entities here.
The second push is to build up the local pool of doctors, trained clinicians, investigators that also can sustain this effort long term.

The key driver for this will be the Biomedical Research Council that is part of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, or ASTAR for short.

The second aspect is intellectual capital development. Here, we are really looking at R&D contributions, both in the public sector and the institutes that are within the Biomedical Research Council, and also private sector industry led research entities that set up in Singapore. This is the part that the group that I am from at EDB, in terms of attracting these companies to Singapore and interesting them in why they should invest in Singapore.

The third piece is industrial capital development. Here, again, not just are we keen on promoting Singapore to companies who set up here, but we are also looking at a very long term perspective of building up capabilities and infrastructure that will make it very friendly to companies to set up here: in terms of speed, in terms of establishing networks with the resources there on the ground.

We also have a venture capital group called Bio One Capital, and their role is to take equity investments in pre IPO stage companies in the biomedical sciences space with a view to create spin offs in Singapore at some point of their development, and they will look at companies both in Singapore and overseas.

So these are the three entities and how we coordinate our efforts in terms of the three C’s that I mentioned earlier, in terms of our development.

Now, just to touch on the first two C’s in terms of intellectual capital development and human capital development, ASTAR has gone a very big way in terms of investing resources to achieve setup since before 2000 by really accelerating the momentum of setting up institutes after year 2000 in these basic science research institutes that you see here, focused on molecular and cell biology, genomics, bioinformatics, chemical engineering, bioengineering, nanotechnology and bio processing. This really plays to the basic science capabilities that I’ve mentioned earlier.

Now, going forward from 2005 2010, our focus is on translational research, where really the key for us is to network capabilities within the basic research institutes, but also with the hospitals where the patients are, with the doctors, and also with the academic institutions where a lot of the research is going on. And we have set up consortiums that integrate, both from a funding perspective in the types of research that they do, and also from a resource perspective, in terms of where they are located, to actually coordinate these efforts that you see there.

Just to elaborate a little bit more what this actually means. I talked earlier about drug discovery. We have set up, as part of the translational research effort, an Experimental Therapeutic Center (ETC) that’s headed by Sir David Lane. Here, what we’re looking to do is to take the drug candidates or the lead compounds from the laboratories through to the clinic and that’s where you need a lot of capabilities to screen for compounds, optimize your chemicals, small molecules, test them and for example, do early stage trials. That’s where ETC will play.

We also have another institute called the Singapore Institute of Clinical Sciences. They will take a more disease oriented approach, in which they will basically work on two things. One is to recruit scientists and clinician investigators that will look at areas such as metabolic diseases, infectious diseases, and genetic medicine. Second focus for them also is to build up the pool of clinician investigators in Singapore that have very good competencies in the bench, on the laboratory side, but also at the bedside in terms of working with patients, understanding how the disease actually affects patients, how can you better use research to come out with better therapies, to treat our patients.

The third piece that I mentioned just now was industrial capital, and I think clearly one of the very important resources that is necessary is infrastructure. Here the government has heavily invested in terms of setting up research specific infrastructure to support bio medical sciences. That’s where we have this development called the Biopolis. We have broken down the development into three phases.

Phase one was basically a development of seven buildings, five of which actually house one research institute that I mentioned earlier. You see that in the diagram outlined in red. Two of the buildings, located as part of the seven buildings, provide space for companies to set up their private research and corporate research centers. That is basically the Chromos and Helios buildings that you see there. This has already been fully taken up since it was started in late ’03.

Phase two comprises the 8th and 9th building, providing more space for both public and private research. That today really has been taken up in terms of occupancy that will come upstream and so we’re actually developing Phase three, which will provide another two buildings. This will come on stream towards the end of 2009, provided we get more space for private sector research.

So, you can really see an acceleration even in terms of the Phase 1, Phase 2, and Phase 3 developments and in terms of infrastructure and the take up here has been very strong both from a public sector research perspective and also from private companies.

In terms of human capital development, I’ve already elaborated on this. This basically shows you some of the international talent that we’ve been able to recruit here. The most recent people that we’ve been able to recruit are Prof. Edward Holmes and Prof. Judith Swain. They are the ones that basically are in charge at a very senior level in terms of charting out and implementing the strategies to promote translational and clinical research in Singapore.

ASTAR also funds a lot of young and bright scientists and students to go overseas to study. Leading universities around the world have fully funded scholarships for bachelors and also post graduate studies, for which then they will come back to Singapore to work for a period of six years, to be trained and contribute back to the ASTAR research institutes, but also then to form a sustainable pool of research scientists that will then feed into the industry.

I think another thing that has really been very interesting for companies when they set up in Singapore, has been not just the strategies that I mentioned earlier, and the co ordination that we’ve been able to provide to them, but also the access to global talent. One example of this is the Novartis Institute of Tropical Diseases that has been able to recruit scientists from around the world both from Western countries US, Europe, but also from within the region, from China, India, and Australia.

When we talk about research today, it has to be on a global perspective in terms of leveraging competencies around the world, but also from a very global perspective in terms of recruitment from a diversity of people that they can recruit from around the world providing new ideas, new perspectives, and new ways to solve problems, better ways to solve problems, and accelerate drug discovery. That has clicked and some of the interested companies set up here and I will just try to capture for you some of the key activities that these companies have set up since the year 2000.

Today we have three pharmaceutical companies that are located here, that are GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, and Lilly. They were among the first few companies that came to Singapore, set up their drug discovery and development centers here. They have now deepened their operations here, leveraging on the resources here whether it’s in Biopolis from an infrastructure standpoint, whether in terms of expertise, recruiting people from overseas or within Singapore, and also then using capabilities within the research institutes in terms of collaborations, partnerships to basically augment their research and development activities.

We have also been very pleased to know that even these companies have then expanded basic research laboratories. For example, GSK first came here to do a lot of target validation work in mice and rodents –to test the compounds in the animals. They have now expanded to a medicinal chemistry laboratory where they would do a lot of the chemistry work, to actually improve those drugs as they gain findings from the animal studies.

Another example is the Eli Lilly center. They first came to Singapore to set up a computational biology facility. They were focused a lot on the study of biomarkers, in terms of treatment of diseases.

They will now basically take that research further downstream by adding on what is termed drug hunting teams to find new drugs that can actually attack those diseases and those biomarkers that have come up… they have found out to be important in terms of treating diseases.

Not just in drug discovery, we also have seen strong investment commitments from companies to set up clinical research centers in Singapore. These are centers where our site in Singapore actually coordinates trials around the region, mainly in Southeast Asia. The centers here work a lot with hospitals in Singapore and within the region to conduct clinical trials on patients that will form part of the entire regulatory submission to the FDA, to the EMEA in Europe, for approvals of drugs.

The contract research organizations in Singapore –some examples of that include Quintiles and Covance– have actually been in Singapore for quite a long time. They have set up here in Singapore to provide the resource to pharma companies to actually coordinate trials on a global basis, capitalizing on the resources in Asia.

They have set up central laboratories where they test clinical samples from patients that the drugs have been tested upon. They consolidate the data and provide it back to their pharma customers, which will form basis for clinical trials.

Just to give you some figures from the examples that I mentioned earlier. I’ve talked about trials, discovery, research and development. These are some of the figures that we use as indicators. The total business spending is really an indicator of how much money is being spent in Singapore for some of these entities that are set up.

It also includes investments from headquarter activities. Some of these could be trial management. Some of these could be certain marketing functions from pharma companies. You can see here from the graph that there has been steady growth, about 217 million Singapore dollars in 2006.

The last piece I would like to touch on is the production phase. I’ve captured for you throughout this presentation what I meant at the start, in terms of the entire value chain. You saw earlier drug discovery, the testing, trials and now, really, the production of drugs. That’s where Singapore has long been a place where pharma companies have found strategic to site their manufacturing facilities here.

The earliest example, clearly, was GSK. To date now, they have five chemical bioactive plants in Singapore that total 1.3 billion Singapore dollars in investments. We have seen the mix of investments in this space actually diversify. Earlier on, when we first started, there was always in the top, chemical actives. This has now moved into formulation, into pilot facilities that will run production for new types of therapies, be it vaccines, or even biological drugs.

I think what’s exciting for us is to see also the wave of investments from biotechnology companies. One clear example of that is Genentech. They are the world’s leading biotech company, and they also would invest in Singapore in terms of production facilities for the latest drugs.

The last piece I’d like to touch on beyond drugs and the protein therapeutics, is really on the device side. We have seen a strong base of companies that have set up medical consumables and device manufacturing plants in Singapore. These are the likes of GMS, Becton Dickinson, and Beckster. This base of manufacturing has now diversified into other areas, where you see investments from CIBA Vision into contact lenses, for example. Edward Life Sciences, they make heart valves that are used to treat patients with cardiac disease.

We have also seen a strong wave of companies that invest in terms of production facilities for research instrumentation and assays. One example of that is Affymetrix that makes microarray chips, and also Walters is a leading company that produces high performance liquid chromatography systems.

So we see a diversification in the type of facilities that are being set up in Singapore, with the nature of products that are being produced. This is really something that, going forward, we want to continue attracting to Singapore as we look at the high value, high tech type of manufacturing.

Now, just to wrap up, a couple of earlier examples of companies and what they have been doing here. Just to give you some numbers in terms of indicators that we use, that will be the manufacturing output. You see in the year 2000 that this was 6.3 billion Singapore dollars. Now, with the approach that we have spoken earlier about, funding the intellectual capital, human capital, and industrial capital, we have seen steady growth in terms of output to about $23 billion for 2006. This is capturing the red line that you see there.

We have also seen the employment, in terms of manufacturing and employment growth, steady. That’s seen in the green line to about 10000 other people. Most of the contribution to the 23 billion Singapore dollars in terms of manufacturing output, 85% of that will come from the pharmaceutical companies. About 15% will come from the device companies I mentioned earlier.

However, for employment, about 60% will come from the medical device manufacturing facilities, and about 40% from pharmaceutical. How would this compare, then, to the other manufacturing sectors within Singapore? You see here, the pie chart on the left, the biomedical sciences as a whole are 23 billion Singapore dollars, as I mentioned earlier, contributes about 10% to the 2006 manufacturing output of the Singapore economy.

In terms of the value added from this sector, it contributes about one quarter, or 25%. This really tells us two things. I think the biomedical sciences area is an area where there is a lot of value. Really, the value added is the indicator that contributes directly to the Singapore GDP.

It also provides the perspective that we are trying to diversify the kind of industries that we have in Singapore, and will really help the Singapore economy to be more able to ride out ups and downs in the global economy.

With this I end my presentation. I would like to thank you for your attention. We’ll be happy to answer any questions that you have. Thank you.

August 3, 2007

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